Tag Archives: family fun

family day out on the cutty sark explorer trail - photo of my hand holding out the brochure which doubles as a kid's guide to emboss at stamping stations throughout the ship

Family Day Out at the Cutty Sark in Greenwich

Since returning to our life in London at the end of September, we hadn’t really had much quality time as a family. After getting home from Valencia, my husband got sinusitis and then I ended up in hospital for a few days with asthma – something I’ve only developed in adult life. For at least two weeks I hadn’t been outside my house or the hospital. So we were really looking forward to having a family day out, courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich, on what turned out to be a glorious, hot Saturday afternoon in October.

We live a short bus ride away from Greenwich, a leafy riverside historic area on the outskirts of London. It is a place dear to our heart, as a couple and as a family.  When my husband and I were dating, we often went there for long, relaxed champagne picnics in Greenwich Park during the summer and in the winter we’d eat plates of whitebait in pubs by the river. We even considered getting married there at one point.

Since becoming a family of three, it has turned out to be an excellent family destination for us as well.  Not only are there plenty of museums and large public spaces, but there are lots of fun restaurants and independent boutiques.  We also like the central market where you can buy handcrafted artisan goods and street food – with lots of vegan options.  Greenwich Park is marvellously big and while younger children enjoy visiting the deer enclosure in the flower garden, older children love straddling the prime meridian line (Greenwich Mean Time) at the observatory on the hill.  Parents and couples will enjoy the beautiful views of Canary Wharf across the river.

Greenwich is easily accessible from Central London via bus, train, riverboat and the Docklands Light Railway.

Sitting at the heart of the waterfront is the Cutty Sark, the world’s sole surviving tea clipper.

It was one of the fastest tea clippers in existence. 

Built in 1869 to carry tea from China to London when the tea business was lucrative and speed was important, the Cutty Sark had a few years of glory before being replaced by steamboats and she was relegated to carrying wool from Australia to the UK.  In 1922 she was found and restored by a retired sea captain and had a few more useful years as a training ship until 1954 when she was laid in dry dock permanently and put on public display. Since then the boat has survived two fires, but after a lengthy restoration she perched atop a stunning architecturally designed glass dry dock which looks like a cresting wave.

When at the ticket desk, be sure to ask for a Cutty Sark explorer trail guide for each child you visit with.  The booklet is free and has a page for each main section of the ship with activities and an area to emboss at designated stamping stations throughout the boat.  My daughter really enjoyed doing this and although there are plenty of fun activities for kids on board it helped provide a bit of focus as we visited each area of the ship.

Those whose little ones under 4 who really love the ship (my 3 year old daughter is asking if we can go back to “the big ship” as I sit here writing this) can join the regular Toddler Time sessions held in the gallery under the Cutty Sark on Wednesdays during term times.  (See the bottom of this post for full details, prices and times.)

Copy of the cutty sark explorer trail guide for kids - a blue paper pamphlet with cool graphicsa copy of the cutty sark Explorer trail guide beside the explorer trail stamp embosser, in front of some carved ship figureheadsmy daughter embossing her cutty sark explorer trail guide

You enter the ship by walking across a ramp and through a hole cut into the hull of the ship.  You walk straight into the main cargo hold of the ship, where once 1,305,812 lbs of tea and later 4,289 bales of wool would have been transported from the other side of the world back to London.  There are loads of interactive stations and activities for kids and informative panels with facts about the ship for older kids and grown ups. There is even a theatre seating area where you can watch a short film about the history of the Cutty Sark.

entering the ship's hull where it is dark and full of TV screens showing the tea industrya tea history timeline stencilled onto reproduction tea crates

She was brave…there’s no way I’d be smelling and touching those “mystery” boxes!

My 3 year old daughter touching and smelling

There are beautiful antique pieces  on display, like model ships and the original ship’s bell (which was stolen but later returned).

a model ship in a glass casethe original ship's bell in brass, engraved with

There are also a couple of interactive toy models of the ship which children are free to play with.

child and parent playing with toy model ship inside ship's hull

The officer and crew quarters have been beautifully restored.  Some of them you can just peek into, like this one with a ghostly projection and voice of a crew member writing a letter to his family, and others which visitors are free to try out.  Those bunks were awfully small!

holographic ship's crew member writing a letter and speaking out loud

Ever the chef, I had to photograph the galley – the ship’s kitchen!

the original ship's galley filled with dirty plates and soup tureens

There is something quite surreal and a bit magical about being on a tall ship riding a crystal wave which captures the movement and reflection from the sky above, ever-headed towards the modern towers of the finance industry in Canary Wharf in the distance. Perhaps a fitting destination, given how significant a business tea was in the 19th century – it was a key source of tax revenue for the British Empire.

A side view of the Cutty Sark tea clipper in Greenwich. There is a view of the towers of Canary Wharf in the background.artistic photo of a row of ship's ropes on pulleys

If you’re feeling particularly energetic after you complete your visit on board the ship, you can even walk to the Isle of Dogs in East London via the Edwardian era Greenwich Pedestrian Tunnel. There is something a bit Jules Verne-esque about the small brick, domed entrance to the tunnel which leads under the River Thames.

entrance to the greenwich pedestrian tunnel with the river thames and the shard in the backgroundarty photo of the ship's rigging with the town of greenwich in the backgroundme walking down a set of stairs holding on to a rope bannisterarty photo of the ship's rigging and the skyphoto of me in a black turtleneck and denim skirt and canvas slip on shoes on the deck of the cutty sark in front of the rigging and pulleys

After you’ve toured the ship itself, a gangway and a set of modern stairs (or a lift) leads you down to the modern gallery area under the ship itself.  I should say at this point that almost every area of the ship itself, aside from a couple of the original crew quarters are all accessible via lift for those who require it.

Under the ship is a small cafe where you can have a cup of coffee and cake, or even afternoon tea while admiring the beautifully polished underside of the Cutty Sark.

the tearoom underneath the cutty sark ship's hull in a big modern gallery spacearty photo of the ship's hull - all polished copper

Keep walking down the gallery and after passing a number of fun interactive displays, you can go up a viewing platform (only accessible via stairs I seem to recall, though I could be wrong about that) to get this amazing view.

the ship's hull, taken from underneath, showing the architectural ribbing of the dry dock supports and the crystal glass

At the far end of the gallery is a collection of ship figureheads, including the original “Cutty Sark”, seen in white below, holding a horse’s tail.  The figurehead now on the ship itself is a reproduction.

In case you were wondering about the unusual name of the ship, Cutty Sark comes from Robert Burns’ poem Tam O’Shanter, about a farmer called Tam who is chased by the witch Nannie who is dressed only in a ‘cutty sark’ – an ancient Scottish name for a short undergarment or chemise.

A number of carved figureheads from shipsthe cutty sark taken from underneath the crystal glass dry dock

We greatly enjoyed our visit aboard the Cutty Sark and as it has been designated as a toddler-approved museum by my daughter I’ll certainly be taking her to the Toddler Time sessions after term time starts up again so we can see this beautiful ship again.

Toddler Time at the Cutty Sark is held rain or shine (with songs, stories and playtime). The timings are 10.00-11.30am and 1.20-2.50pm. The cost is £5 per adult, but under 4’s are free (obviously accompanied by a parent!) but if a parent signs up to an annual membership for £44, you can go for free to as many sessions as you wish.

This post is a sponsored collaboration with Royal Museums Greenwich.

an open porthole in the ship's cargo hull

Resources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_tea, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cutty_Sark, https://www.rmg.co.uk/see-do/we-recommend/attractions/nannie-cutty-sark-figurehead#k8rUo4yTzSq73zLE.99

How to Fall in Love with Your Mountain Bike

She was called The Bobcat and it was 1985. My grandfather hauled her, all shiny and new – silver with neon lime and orange lettering – out of the back of his pickup truck and it was love at first sight. I rode The Bobcat up and down the dirt trails and backroads of Nova Scotia until about 1990 when I got too big for her and my mother gave her away to a neighbourhood kid. She was my first mountain bike.

Since then I’ve been a pretty avid cyclist – always mountain bikes. (I once tried using a street bike when we rented some in Amsterdam on holiday. It was embarrassing, I had no idea how to use a back brake and totally lost my temper.) But all through high school I cycled about 11 miles a day after school and I continued cycling until my mid 30’s when I moved to an area of London where my husband and I had 3 of our mountain bikes stolen in succession. So we gave up on owning bikes for a while and the only times since then I’ve cycled has been on holidays and trips to Canada where I could honestly spend days exploring the trails of Kejimkujik National Park. But now we live in a leafy, green suburb (still in London) and have just our daughter her first bike. So its time to get the family cycling again. Its something we’ve been thinking about since our trip to Kielder Water and Forest Park in Northumberland last year. It was an amazing place to hike, but we’ve been itching to get back there on our bikes.

The key to learning to ride your mountain bike is to ease yourself into it. You can do this and you will love it. I promise. You will get on that bike and you will just want to cycle for miles. And the next day you will ache. Badly. So start slow. Make the process a gentle one. Maybe just ride through the local park or around your neighbourhood (around 1/2 mile) for the first day, then make it a full mile the next day, and slowly ease yourself into longer rides. Make sure you can easily do a 3-5 mile ride before you start taking on any trails and always start with the easy (green) trails. It goes without saying, but make sure you have your phone with you so you can call for help if you do have an accident whilst out on the trail. These are just a few basic starter tips based on my knowledge and experience cycling in Canada, the US, Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and here in the UK. Helpfully, Halfords have published a beginner’s guide to cycling which includes a great list of cycling trails throughout the UK, and rather helpfully they are graded for difficulty.

Getting Started

You honestly don’t need a lot of fancy kit to get started.

Essentially, you need a good quality bike that is well suited to your height and build, some comfortable clothes (nothing too loose in the legs, so it won’t get caught up in the gears) and a safe helmet. I survived with only these items for a long time. When you have the right bike, it makes all the difference in the world, so its worth spending just that little bit more money to get a comfortable one with good quality gears and Shimano brakes. I’m on the shorter side at 5’4″ so I prefer lighter and smaller 27.5″ wheels on my bike, and these are great for winding trail routes, however someone taller might prefer 29″ wheels.

Over the years I have found that there are a few other bits and pieces that can be helpful to have and I’ve listed them below:

Bike & Helmet

Obviously you need the bike, and the helmet is a no-brainer in this day and age.

Cycling Gloves

If you’re a bit of a weenie, like me, you might find cycling gloves will help you avoid getting painful blisters and callous build up on the palms of your hands and on your fingers. If you fall they’ll also help protect your hands from getting grazed.

Mudguards

I’ve never NOT had mudguards on a mountain bike. Why would you not have them unless you like having a vertical line of heavy mud spatter up your back and in your hair.

Lights & Reflectors

If you plan to ride at night or in the evening, you’ll need some lights. I don’t ever ride at night so I don’t have these – just a set of front and back reflectors.

Glare-Free Wraparound Sunglasses

When you’re riding in the daytime you’ll want some glare-free sunglasses. I’ve always worn a pair of Oakley wraparounds that I only wear for climbing and cycling. Sadly they don’t make that model anymore, but there’s plenty of new brightly coloured models to choose from if you don’t mind rocking the Dog The Bounty Hunter look. Actually I’m joking (kind of) as there are loads of tasteful options to choose from and the optical laser quality testing that Oakley performs on their lenses is second to none. Eye health and good vision is incredibly important to me which is why I feel passionate about this topic. I found a YouTube video on it here if you have no idea what I’m talking about. However, if Oakley is out of your budget, there are definitely lots of more budget-friendly wraparound sunglasses on the market.

Visibility Jacket or Vest

In terms of clothing, I have over the years bought cycling shorts, cropped cycling leggings, long cycling leggings and special cycling jerseys. But honestly I don’t think that most of it is all that necessary unless you’re commuting long distances with your bike, on a cycling holiday or taking up cycling at a really serious level. (Technical clothing is helpful for wicking away sweat, and can be comfortable, but for novice riders, a pair of jersey leggings and a t-shirt will do just as well.) I do think, however, that a bright yellow visibility jacket or vest is really good to have because you want to be sure, even during the day, that cars can see you.

Water Bottle or Hydration Pack

I’ve always been a fan of the old fashioned water bottle stuck in a little wire holder which is attached to the frame of the bike, but you can get hydration packs which will hold a lot more water for longer rides. I am intrigued by these systems and may well make the investment at some point. Again, this is only something you need when you’re on a cycling holiday or out for whole day rides. Not necessary for a morning pedal through Wimbledon Common.

Make Some Memories

A GoPro. Because there is nothing your friends and family will love more than watching infinite replays of your 4 hour cycling trail video. Well, maybe not, but you know, I’m a bit of a camera bore myself, and when you’ve done an amazing ride and you come out of the forest to a glorious sunset view of a lake or canyon or a secret waterfall, I can promise you, you will enjoy having a secret replay of it just for yourself, come January when your bike is tucked away in the shed and there’s snow outside on the ground. So meanwhile, start making those memories. (And you don’t need a GoPro to do that!) Get outside, hop on your bike, whether its Kielder, Kejimkujik…or even just Wimbledon Common, and enjoy the summer while it lasts.

This post was sponsored by Halfords, the UK’s leading cycling retailer.